BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Embattled Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari asked the Shiite alliance Thursday to confirm his nomination for a second term, and Shiite lawmakers said they planned to meet this weekend to decide whether to replace him.
The move represents the first sign that al-Jaafari may have abandoned his quest for another term in the face of strong opposition from Sunnis and Kurds and opens the door for the 130 Shiite lawmakers to replace him.
Jawad al-Maliki, spokesman for the Dawa party, told reporters that alliance lawmakers would meet Saturday to make their decision. The United States had put strong pressure on the Shiites to resolve the standoff over al-Jaafari, which has blocked formation of a national unity government.
The dramatic announcement was made shortly before a planned session of the Iraqi parliament to try to jump-start talks on the new government. Shiite official Ridha Jawad Taqi said the Shiites would ask that the parliament session be delayed until Saturday or Sunday.
Al-Jaafari had repeatedly refused to abandon the nomination he won two months ago by one vote in a ballot among the lawmakers. As the largest bloc in parliament, the Shiites get to name the prime minister subject to parliament approval.
But the Shiites lack the votes in the 275-member parliament to guarantee their candidate’s approval unless they have the backing of the Sunnis and Kurds, who blame al-Jaafari for the surge in sectarian violence in the last couple months.
Al-Maliki, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement, said the prime minister was not stepping down, but “he is not sticking to this post.”
The alliance leaders had avoided taking a public stand on demands by Sunnis and Kurds to replace al-Jaafari, fearing a split in the Shiite alliance. Al-Jaafari had repeatedly refused to step aside and on Wednesday said that such a move was “out of the question.”